The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), on Tuesday, told the Federal High Court, Abuja, that the Hope Democratic Party, HDP’s Presidential Candidate in the 2019 election, Ambrose Owuru, was on the commission’s list for fraud charges.
The EFCC said the case was still pending before the Port Harcourt Division of a Federal High Court in Rivers State.
The counsel to the EFCC, Ibrahim Audu, made the remark at the hearing of Mr Owuru’s fundamental rights enforcement suit, challenging the legality of the commission to declare him wanted in a July 10, 2018, newspaper publication.
Mr Audu told Justice Nkeonye Maha that Mr Owuru was avoiding trial in the criminal case instituted against him by the commission, which prompted the court in Port Harcourt to issue an arrest warrant against him.
He said the criminal charges against Mr Owuru bordered on obtaining money by false pretence.
“He was evading his trial and the High Court duly issued an arrest warrant against him.
“It was on the basis of the arrest warrant that the publication was made,” he said.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that on August 7 when the matter came up before Justice Taiwo Taiwo, a lawyer representing Mr Owuru, Eze Nnayenlugo, had said that the criminal case referred to by the EFCC involved “a land transaction.”
He added that the case had been withdrawn.
However, the EFCC’s counsel insisted that the criminal case was still pending before the court in Port Harcourt and had not been withdrawn.
At the resumed hearing on Tuesday, Mr Owuru’s lawyer, Chukwunoyerem Njoku, urged Justice Maha to grant his client’s prayers, including an award of N500 million damages for the damage allegedly done to his reputation with the EFCC’s publication.
He also sought an order restraining the anti-graft agency from further publication.
Mr Njoku stated that the commission had no power to declare anybody wanted without the backing of a court order.
“There is nothing in the exhibit tendered by the respondent (EFCC) that empowers it to make that publication,” Mr Njoku added.
Responding, Mr Audu said there was also no provision of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act that made a court order a condition precedent to declare a defendant facing criminal charges wanted.
“There is nothing in ACJA that says for the publication to be made, there must be a court order,” he said.
Mr Audu added that the subject matter of the suit “is not one of the enforceable rights under Chapter 4 of the Constitution or under the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules.:’
He maintained that the suit ought to have been filed as a libel case instead of a fundamental rights enforcement suit.
He also argued that the Supreme Court had admonished other lower courts “not to be misled in treating every infraction as an infraction of the fundamental rights.”
Justice Maha, after hearing parties to the case, fixed October 7 for judgment on the legality of the publication and whether Mr Owuru deserved the N500 million sought as damages in the suit.
NAN reports that the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal had, on August 22, dismissed an election petition filed by Mr Owuru to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory at the February 3 presidential poll.(NAN)